In a casting decision heard around the world, it was announced last week that the 13th Doctor in the more than half-century-old Doctor Who series will be played by Jodie Whittaker, who is a woman and has breasts that needed to be reported on pronto, of course.
Britain's The Sun was on that aspect of the story faster than a sonic screwdriver can trivialize an escape scene. They likely have a person on the breast beat full-time, or at least a titern they can call on when a story like this breaks.
The new Doctor had "flashed her boobs" in her "saucy screen past," read the spread – illustrated with photos from Ms. Whittaker's role in the 2006 film Venus.
The headline on the story was "Dalektable," which doesn't even make sense. Those determined to wring their hands over the decline of a great British cultural institution should worry less about the sex of a two-hearted, sometimes jelly-baby-loving time traveller and more about the British tabloids being so off their cheeky pun game.
The response to the announcement was predictable. There was excitement from the fans who welcomed the change, partly because they're Doctor Who fans. Most Doctor Who viewers understand that change, literal regeneration, is what has kept the show ticking – ticking like an organ-harvesting clockwork android in a jester's mask out to steal Madame de Pompadour's brain – for so long.
There was also "will never watch again!" anger from those fans who view the casting move as capitulation to the dark forces of "political correctness."
"Political correctness" is the euphemism employed by people who claim they only want to be allowed to speak plainly (often about women, gay people and black people) and without censure, just before they get really sulky when women, gay people and black people tell them to piss off.
These people seem to think art exists in opposition to society, as a sort of dam to keep change in check, rather than as a reflection of change, sometimes with bonus inspiration. They managed, this week, to miss the distinction between visiting the past (in an "I'm just going to see a queen about a werewolf" sort of way) and just being stuck in the past. They're trying desperately to keep Doctor Who from moving through time, and think that by tweeting "What's next? A MALE WONDER WOMAN!!!!?" they are basically boosting the Doctor's dematerialization circuit.
For the record, were emerging from near-death in different forms one of Wonder Woman's hallmarks, I'd be okay with her waking up one day and discovering she's now Tom Baker. Instead, Ms. Woman is really hot and has a magic lasso.
The Doctor being played by a woman is not a BBC about-face nor is it pandering. If the 14th Doctor is an Ewok, we can have that conversation. In fact, the "Should the Doctor be a woman?" question is older than many of the people watching the show.
It's a question provoked less by fans than by the nature of the show itself. Although were it a move provoked by fans, that would also be fine. "Popular entertainment series develops in a way that the producers think will engage the fanbase and draw in new viewers" is hardly breaking news.
Of note, "What? The new Transformers series has cars that turn into giant robots? Why are they pandering to the Transforming Automotive Warrior agenda?" was never a rallying cry. You don't have to be a mad-genius neurochemist exiled from the planet Gallifrey – along with, apparently, a hairstylist from Dynasty – to see what opposition to Ms. Whittaker's new role is about.
The very nature of the Doctor's face-changing ways suggested he take the form of a woman. This is not a departure for the series, it's a continuation. The Master, the Doctor's nemesis, also a Time Lord, claims credit for breaking the glass ceiling back in 2014. Although a case is working its way through Fictional Time-Travelling Alien Court that, while "Missy" might have been the first to do so onscreen, the complainant, the Corsair, had been mentioned as switching genders regularly back in 2011.
Much of the defence for Ms. Whittaker's casting offered this week involved citing the oddities of the Doctor Who series before insisting that having a woman Doctor was no more far-fetched than an invasion of malevolent department-store mannequins or a traipse through time with Lady Conan the Space Barbarian.
That defence is a slight to both women and genre fiction, as if the addition of one more bizarre element (a female) couldn't make the situation (a sci-fi series) any worse.
It's important to remember that there's an internal logic to successful constructed realities. Accepting that fantastical things happen in a fantastical world is not the same as just accepting anything.
Build these universes with care, and readers and viewers will be happy to embrace talking giant eagles or an old man who breaks stone bridges by shouting and whacking them with a stick. The Lord of the Rings establishes that these are the kinds of things we can expect in Middle Earth. We will nod as someone called "The Witch King" declares that "no man" can kill him, just before this prophecy is unexpectedly fulfilled by his being slain by a woman – but that doesn't mean we'd be chuffed if the Lord of the Nazgûl were slain by the Rockettes.
"The show didn't need to be political!" was another complaint heard this week. What show have they been watching? Even if the big revelation of the next season is that the Tardis is literally powered by burning bras, it would still not be half as political (or one 10th as surreal) as Sylvester McCoy's seventh Doctor lecturing a 17th-century sorceress on the horrors of nuclear war with a cry of "Death, death gone mad!"
Nice try, 2017, but if the 13th Doctor is an attempt to ruin a classic piece of television by making it "overly political," she'll have to contend with 1988's The Happiness Patrol, wherein the Doctor was instrumental in the downfall of Totally Not Margaret Thatcher, I Mean, She's in Space, and Margaret Thatcher Never Went to Space, So There!
In those three episodes we saw how, for too long, Space Non-Britons suffered Non-Thatcher's tyrannical reign under which innocent citizens who appeared insufficiently joyous in public were rounded up by the titular Happiness Patrols and enemies of the state were cruelly drowned in strawberry fondant by an evil robot made entirely out of candy.
For the record, this was a genius serial and if you disagree, I will fight you, any planet, any time, but let's accept, just for the sake of argument, that the casting of Ms. Whittaker is a massive unexpected change for the series. That wouldn't be anything new.
Overall, if your main expectations of science-fiction series are "Don't change a thing!" and "I don't want to be lectured!" Doctor Who may not be the show for you. After all, the series was originally conceived as an educational children's program, one which would not, under any circumstances, feature "bug-eyed monsters." The Doctor's first companions included two schoolteachers, one to lecture the Doctor's teenage granddaughter, and the audience, about history, the other to do the same for science.
Then, in the second serial, it was decided it would be much more fun for everyone if the team fought bug-eyed, genocidally angry salt shakers instead.
The only reason controversy over "the next Doctor" is even possible is because of a major change to the nature of the character. When it was decided that William Hartnell, the original Doctor, would be leaving the show, producers were left with the challenge of continuing the successful series without its leading man.
Rather than just recasting the Doctor and moving on, it was determined that the change should be acknowledged in the story and so the Doctor went from an alien with a time-travelling police call box to an alien with a time-travelling police call box who turned into Patrick Troughton when mortally wounded.
Obsessive attention to continuity has never been a focus of the series. Major elements of the mythos were often freely changed if discarding something from the past would make for a better story in the present. Originally portrayed as wise and aloof demigods watching over the timelines in The War Games, the Time Lords were almost totally reimagined as a somewhat doddering bunch of academics and politicians to give Tom Baker's fourth Doctor more room for heroism when he visited Gallifrey in The Deadly Assassin.
Even the more continuity-focused relaunch has not been afraid to make changes far greater than the Doctor regenerating him-now-her-self an extra X chromosome. From the very beginning of the new series, the Doctor's destruction of his own home planet of Gallifrey had been at the core of both the series and its title character. Then, in 2013, it was decided that the "last of and destroyer of his kind" arc was exhausted and anyway, the writers would really like to play around with the Time Lords again and so, in The Day of the Doctor, it was revealed that the Doctor had not destroyed Gallifrey after all. The planet was just hidden away, awaiting the day executive producer Steven Moffat would pluck it from limbo.
Doctor Who ran for 26 years, was cancelled, then brought back after 16 years and has been on the air ever since, mostly because it flashes its creative licence at anyone who pulls it over and speeds right on.
The casting of a woman is just one more reason to say, Godspeed, Doctor.